Show caption Hi-tech horror … Riana Duce as Mina Harker. Photograph: Ed Waring Theatre Dracula: The Untold Story review – a wild gothic thrill ride Leeds Playhouse
For a tale of the undead, Imitating the Dog’s inventive blend of live theatre and tech is bursting with life Nick Ahad @NickAhad Thu 30 Sep 2021 11.33 BST Share on Facebook
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Having tackled zombies in its most recent production, Night of the Living Dead – Remix, the Leeds company Imitating the Dog now takes on Dracula. The smart money would be on Frankenstein next to complete a diabolical trilogy.
For a show about the undead, this is bursting with life: theatre as intensely popular culture, with influences from movies such as Sin City, graphic novels including Watchmen and Constantine, and a sensibility heavily redolent of the Cumberbatch Sherlock.
The company, made up of co-artistic directors Andrew Quick, Pete Brooks and Simon Wainwright, has always pushed the boundaries of technology and theatre. Here the blend of live performance and digital is perfect. In their version of Night of the Living Dead, the balance was out of whack, the tech getting in the way of the show. In Dracula: The Untold Story, a co-production with Leeds Playhouse, equilibrium is achieved.
Pushing boundaries … Dracula: The Untold Story. Photograph: Ed Waring
Three actors play out the story in front of a projection screen, performing simultaneously to the audience and to cameras on stage. Their images are then relayed to the screen and digitally treated to make it look as though we are watching a graphic novel come to life. The result may sound confusing but is never less than engaging, often thrillingly so.
This original story takes Bram Stoker’s novel and places Mina Harker at its centre. She turns up in a police station on New Year’s Eve 1965 to confess to a sceptical WPC and a detective about a 70-year killing spree. She has used her supernatural strength and prophetic dreams to hunt down would-be murderers in this alternate universe, taking out Stalin and Hitler before they commit their atrocities.
As Harker, Riana Duce gives the best performance of her still young career. There could be a temptation to present Harker ironically – it is all very gothic – but she resists, playing it straight, which, in turn, allows us to buy wholly into the conceit. Adela Rajnović and Matt Prendergast, representing multiple characters, have worked like this before and you can see it in the way they play with the mixed media.
Inventive, amusing, genuinely thrilling at times, this is a blend of digital and live performance that makes sense for our era.
At Leeds Playhouse until 9 October. Then touring.